Updated: Mar 28
My fear is my strength, I wrote in my journal this morning, not really knowing what I meant or if I even believed it. The only thing I knew is that I was about to do something super scary, super pushing my edges and that some fear stuff had to be worked through first.
We seek out and avoid fear, us humans. We push our edges for excitement, testing the limits of gravity - there are entire "amusement" parks built on this mix of fear and excitement. But when it comes down to doing something personally scary, the emergency break can screech us to a full halt, immobilizing us completely, even when there's no emergency. Shoulders tense up, empty vortex starts spinning inside belly, thoughts scatter, lightheadedness can even happen, then exhaustion hits, plowing me down like a wave smashing into the sand.
That's how my body processes fear. It goes into a state of emergency. We all know a little too much about that these days - states of emergency. I can be sitting in my peaceful home office, drinking a cup of coffee, listening to relaxing music, and it hits me. It starts with a tingling feeling and ends up with full-on catastrophic thinking. And nothing has happened. The music plays in the background, a scented candle flickers in front of me.
Whatif, whatif, whatif...I write in my journal. And then all the fears come pouring out.
I have done a lot of things that scare me. I have traveled solo to many places where I didn't speak the language, couldn't even read the alphabet and didn't know anyone. I have lived in Paris, arriving with a hotel for two nights, a rail pass and some money. I ended up living there for four years.
In my travels, I learned that fear isn't something I have to get rid of or brace myself against. It's something I can welcome. It's something I can invite to tea and have a dialogue with. Trying to push it away with rationality doesn't work, anyway.
"Don't be afraid," you may have heard or said to a kid about to go on a roller coaster for the first time, like my son did last month on our first trip to Disney. As we got closer and closer to the ride, his fear mounted. He wanted to turn back, but of course we couldn't - the 20th person in a line of 100. So we pushed on, my friend assuring me that this was good for him, to do things he is afraid of, that kids now, especially after Covid, needed to know they could do hard things. To myself, I whispered, "Grown-ups need to know, too."
So there my son sat on his very first roller coaster, his eyes closed, ears covered, head hunkered down as far as it would go. Tears were probably streaming down his face. I looked worriedly at my friend, a social worker who works with kids and I trusted him when he said, again, "This is good for him. He can do this."
And he did! He hated every second and the Disney photo wasn't exactly what I had imagined, but he made it through and actually wanted to go on another roller coaster ride. When he got off that second one, he shouted, "I wanna do it again! That was amazing!" And I knew he'd made it through. He'd literally gone through the dark, scary tunnel, faced his fear and the giant roaring dinosaurs and come out the other side with something he didn't have before. He can do hard and even scary things.
And so can I. And so can you. Whether that scary thing is riding a rollercoaster for the first time, having a difficult conversation, sitting down to write that book, or for me, today, posting about my very first international writing retreat, I am here to say, it's okay.
Fear is not the foe, it can be our friend. We can even have fun with it! What are you afraid of? Tell me in the comments or respond to this email - and let's have a "fear fest" - a party to celebrate all the things we have done, all the things we do every single day, with fear. Let's put on some funky music and do the boogie woogie! Fear is not that scary.
You know what is scary? Not doing the thing. Fearing fear rather than embracing it, befriending it, because it's here to stay. It's part of our survival skills.
Today when I wrote in my journal, Fear, you have the floor, I was almost floored when fear wrote back:
I'm afraid I'm not good enough. Who am I - little ol' me - to do something so grand as to host a Tuscan Writing Retreat in a big beautiful villa in the land that my great-grandparents were born - Italia!
Who do I think I am? Fear asked.
"Me. Totally me," I answered.